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Mea Culpa – How to Make A Thriller, Gallic Style

© Fox International

Oh no, Théo! © Fox International


It would be so easy on this 70th anniversary of D-Day to accuse the French of simply imitating the very American genre of action-thriller movie with Mea Culpa.

All the familiar elements are there:

  • BFF cops, whose competence is unrecognized by frat-boy colleagues and idiot chief
  • cops are failures at love
  • child of one of the cops in danger
  • child is under 10 with innocent doe eyes
  • butt-ugly bad guys
  • head bad guy ensconced in quiet interior chamber of loud, crowded club (The Why Notlove that!)
  • gunshots that miss at close range
  • baddies have machine guns, cops, of course, don’t
  • shoot-out at shipyard
  • bewildered civilians who have to be thrown out of their cars when cop needs to commandeer their vehicle


But, just as they’ve done with most things, the French have taken our original idea and made it much better.  Director Fred Cavayé has dispensed with one of the most irritating precepts of American buddy cop movies:  He’s eliminated the unfunny light banter between action scenes.

I didn’t know that the purpose of that oh-so-painful dialogue was to reassure the audience that the cop buddies weren’t gay.  Fortunately, this is a non-issue for the French, and there’s no time for them, or us, to catch our breath.

Cavayé also used Steven Soderbergh’s composer Cliff Martinez  to score the movie.  Smart choice.

Vincent Lindon plays Simon, a disillusioned ex-cop who caused a fatal car accident.  That event ruined his career, marriage, and haunts his every waking moment.  His former partner Frank (the insanely versatile Gilles Lelouche) has remained his BFF while still on the force.

Lindon’s ex-wife Alice (Nadine Labaki) along with her boyfriend Jean-Marc (Cyril Lecomte) take her son Théo (the delightfully named Max Baissette de Malglaive) to a bullfight, as you do. (They have bullfights in the south of France?)

Because she’s not American, she allows Théo to go by himself to les toilettes where he witnesses the immediate aftermath of an execution.  We’ve learned from an earlier scene that these bad guys don’t leave witnesses, even if they happen to be kids.  They begin to hunt him down right there in the corrida.

Vincent, having only his son to live for, demands protection for his son and ex-wife, but the police chief, as said requisite idiot, demurs.  A nail-biting action sequence schools him most vite.  He offers protection for them while we’re still catching our breath.

However,  Simon knows he knows better and decides to become a vigilante.  Frank knows Simon and won’t let him go it alone.

The rest of the movie is a roller coaster of action, with unpredictable, nail-biting fights.

While the plot doesn’t bog itself down with unnecessary exposition about who the criminals are and why they are so evil, there is a twist to the story that you will never see coming.

Just as a roller coaster ride is still in your system after you disembark from the car, this bit will keep you thinking as the credits roll.  And it’s all over far too soon.

Enfin!  A real summer movie!


This site was borne of my passion for movies, particularly French films. I have spent time in France and am fluent in the language, hence the “le”. The “snob” part, while of French origin, is not meant to intimidate, but rather an effort to reclaim the word from the pretentious, just as the gay community has done with the word “queer.” We’re all snobs; we all like what we like.

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